Thought Leadership

Steady nerves & cool heads in the time of COVID-19

Southpaw’s Zoom panel explored why adopting the mantra of ‘Keep Calm & Brand Build’ will ensure your brand thrives in a crisis

Tom Poynter, Southpaw

Managing Director


“Marketers have panicked and pivoted through the last 100 days, but our mantra for a brighter future is ‘keep calm and brand build’. What do you think of that statement?”

A punchy question kicked off the Southpaw-hosted Zoom panel, chaired by CEO Tom Poynter and drawing insight from Niki Macartney, Southpaw’s Strategy Director, Orlando Wood, Chief Innovation Officer at System 1 and Imaad Ahmed, Chief Advisory Officer at WARC.

“Hitting long term targets is the real challenge,” observed Macartney, an insight backed up by WARC data that shows seven out of ten marketers want to invest in long term brand building but feel that short term pressures have allowed emotion to overtake reason.

But how to build your brand in the midst of a COVID-triggered supply and demand recession? “The one nuance many marketers will be worried about is budgets,” said Ahmed. “But look at other levers too to maintain visibility, like customer experience, PR, partnerships and commerce.”

The importance of creativity

As per Binet and Field, brand building spend in its many forms will aid recovery; it’s how you build your way out of recessionary times. But as Orlando Wood said, “As we come out of this [COVID-19 crisis] we have an opportunity to take stock. We need to think about how to make advertising better at attracting attention and eliciting emotional response.”

The key to eliciting that emotional response is creativity. Aside from size, it’s the most important thing to build your brand in the long term.

Wood explained that we live in a time where advertising is aimed at appealing to the narrow, linear, goal-orientated left brain. “The type of creative that is made today, with a few exceptions, tends to be different to the type you got 20 to 30 years ago. Advertising has become unilateral; we’re not referencing the things that attract and sustain interest, characters, human interaction, parody and pastiche. Creativity is there, but it’s being deployed in the wrong way.”

Advertising was already in crisis before it was in a crisis. We need to think about how we brand-build better.

Orlando Wood

Re-engineering the right kind of creativity

There’s a case for re-engineering the right kind of creativity, namely the kind which appeals to the open, emotional and connected right brain. But what’s going to motivate brands to do this in a pandemic? Out of need, argues Macartney: “It’s not just through a love and desire to make the work better. We should need to make this work better because the data and case studies show a decline in effectiveness over decades.”

Moderator Poynter posed to the panellists how brands can answer that need. “Company culture is imperative to get back to brand building and growth. Long term-ism should be hardwired, so when panic happens you are rooted to what you know and what is good for the business,” asserted Macartney and Ahmed agreed, “You have to see advertising in terms of capital investment and talk in the language of a CFO. The research shows that excess share of voice correlates with profit, and brand growth over the long term, and those are the things stakeholders will be receptive to.”

Getting down to brass tacks, the panellists all agreed there are codes and commitments marketers can follow to not just talk the talk but strut their way to long term brand building success.

Long-term brand building success

Wood stands by the Three F’s: Fame, Feeling and Fluency. “They are the three emperors of advertising: mental availability, the feeling you get about a brand, and rapidity of recognition. Establish these three heuristic principles so your customers can make quick and easy decisions in your favour.”

To do that, Macartney explains the importance of understanding your audience. “Get down to granular detail. Understand biases, decision making, behaviour. At Southpaw we work through what is most likely to influence behaviour so we can nudge, steer and create better brand building advertising.”

Once you have the advertising campaign, then depth and breadth of commitment to your creative is what will seal the deal. But don’t be fooled, says Ahmed; it’s not all about the dollar signs. “Creative Commitment is a composite metric of three things: how much spent, how many channels, and the duration. Increase Creative Commitment, and you increase effectiveness. A lot of people assume that budget is the most important lever, but that isn’t the case: by increasing channel and duration, some brands have been able to move up the ladder without having deep pockets.”   

There is nothing more sobering than a crisis to help us restore a sense of meaning. For brands, that meaning can be found in projecting human connection, sensitively referencing the best culture has to offer, honouring creativity, and above all understanding what makes people tick.

Guest Author

Tom Poynter, Southpaw

Managing Director,


Tom Poynter is currently the MD of Hakuhodo agency Southpaw. His experience spans 20 years in advertising and creative agencies holding leadership positions at Publicis, Digitas and Iris Worldwide.

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